Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
USA/France, 2013. Highline Pictures, Caméra One, Endless Picnic, Snowfort Pictures, Jododune. Cinematography by David Cavallo. Produced by Frank Pavich, Stephen Scarlata, Travis Stevens. Music by Kurt Stenzel. Production Design by Syd Garon. Film Editing by Paul Docherty, Alex Ricciardi. National Board of Review Awards 2014. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2014. Toronto International Film Festival 2013.
A magnificent tribute to the imagination, and a record of the dreaming that begets what we see on the big screen, this is a documentary about the making of a film that never saw the light of day. Cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky made an impression with a number of underground classics like El Topo and The Holy Mountain before producer Michel Seydoux approached him to collaborate on his next project. Jodorowsky chose to adapt Frank Herbert’s classic science-fiction novel Dune (which, hilariously, he had never read), hoping to put an acid trip on screen and recreate the feeling of LSD without actually being on drugs. Step by step we are guided through pre-production as the director and producer travel around the world in search of artists whose talent and passion would contribute to the project, including writer Dan O’Bannon and graphic artists Chris Foss and H.R. Giger, amassing a huge number of conceptual stills and storyboards that were compiled into a mammoth, hardcover script to be shopped around to prospective studio backers. Then came casting, with the likes of Orson Welles, David Carradine and Salvador Dali seduced into making appearances in the epic, all of them won over by Jodorowsky’s mercurial personality and commitment to all their eccentric requests ($100,000 a minute for Dali and private catering for the voluptuary Welles). Then came time for production to be bankrolled, and what was two and a half years of preparation and dreaming resulted in absolute bubkes: in a pre-Star Wars Hollywood, in which science-fiction was not a viable commercial option in the big leagues, no studio wanted to touch the project with a ten-foot pole. What we learn from this fascinating voyage into the depths of passion is that a film that was never made had its stamp on projects that would go on to be huge successes: Lucas’s space opera trilogy, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Flash Gordon and even as recent a film as Prometheus sees the influence of Jodorowsky’s unrealized dream. The director’s own film career was crippled by the failed project, having directed only four films since then: disappointed when Dune was taken over by the de Laurentiis family and made into a bombastic failure by David Lynch, Jodorowsky put filmmaking aside and concentrated more on graphic novels (which furthered his collaboration with Foss). Now, at 83, he narrates the entire production with a few regrets, a lot of hard truths and absolutely no bitterness whatsoever. The pleasure of watching this endlessly charming man wax nostalgic on his memories of the unseen film is alone worth ninety minutes of your time, not to mention the wealth of footage, photographs and interviews with collaborators (O’Bannon’s widow is a particularly amiable presence). Director Frank Pavich’s construction of scenes from the Dune script using animated storyboards and screenplay dialogue allows the film to be created within your own imagination, making for a symbiosis between documentary and viewer that is unparalleled; it is possible that the Dune you create in your mind while watching this wonderful film is even better than anything Jodorowsky would have come up with (Kurt Stenzel’s superb musical score helps quite a bit too). It is often said that the process of making movies is such a Sisyphian experience that it is amazing they get made at all, and watching this gorgeous documentary makes that all too painfully easy to believe. If Jodorowsky ever wants to give the project another shot, however, he’d be more than welcome to it: the David Lynch mess and a moderately satisfying miniseries have done nothing to put a definitive version of Herbert’s novel on the screen.